6 Ways Colleges And Universities Are Responding To Coronavirus From online classes to warnings against xenophobia — and at least one "COVID-cat" — here's how schools are coping with the global health crisis.
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6 Ways Universities Are Responding To Coronavirus

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6 Ways Universities Are Responding To Coronavirus

6 Ways Universities Are Responding To Coronavirus

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NOEL KING, HOST:

Dozens of colleges in this country have canceled in-person classes because of fears of the coronavirus. That affects more than 600,000 students. NPR's Anya Kamenetz covers education. She's with us this morning. Good morning, Anya.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So it seemed like nothing was closed for a while, and then all of a sudden it started happening very quickly. Why is that?

KAMENETZ: Well, you know, since the University of Washington really got the ball rolling last Friday, more than 40 colleges all over the country - ranging from Columbia, Princeton, Rice, Stanford, Hofstra - have announced that they're pausing in-person classes for various length of time. So could be a few days; it could be the rest of the semester. And we're also seeing large events being canceled as well.

In many cases, colleges reported somebody in their community has tested positive, a faculty member or a student. And this - and in other cases, they say, you know, this is an abundance-of-caution measure. You know, recommendations from the CDC are saying social distancing is advised - right? - to slow the spread of the disease.

KING: So what does this mean for students? Particularly, let's say class isn't canceled for just a couple of days but for the rest of the semester. What are they doing?

KAMENETZ: So almost every university is offering some form of online teaching. They're having to do this really quickly, and it's not always, you know, ideal. But they're using, you know, existing learning software. They're using teleconferencing, like Zoom, also free online course sites. Some colleges are offering pass-fail, you know, if the course is almost complete. I talked to Jeff Lehman a little while ago. He's the vice chancellor at NYU Shanghai. And they actually had to move their classes online weeks ago because of the coronavirus in China. And he said that there's been a silver lining to all of this.

JEFF LEHMAN: We have, as a faculty, been thinking more seriously about pedagogy in the last month than we have in the prior eight years.

KAMENETZ: And he says that's because faculty are having to really work hard to try to make these online classes just as engaging as they would be in person. And by the way, NYU also has Abu Dhabi and Florence campuses that have also now switched to online classes.

KING: Oh, in the Middle East and in Italy, of course. That makes sense.

KAMENETZ: Yeah.

KING: So when classes go online, when a college puts the classes online, does that mean the campus just shuts down totally?

KAMENETZ: For the most part, no. Campuses are staying open because of - they have essential services. So they're serving food, for example, via, like, grab-and-go bagged lunches. Research labs are continuing to be open, like at the University of Washington, which is developing, conducting coronavirus testing. And interestingly, Noel, we've seen that some colleges are choosing to still hold athletic events even when they've canceled classes.

KING: Hm. That's an interesting decision, isn't it?

KAMENETZ: I think so.

KING: What do you think we'll - we're going to see for the rest of the semester? Do you think we'll see more of this?

KAMENETZ: I do. I talked to Brian Alexander at Georgetown. He's been tracking colleges' responses to the outbreak. And he says he expects to see many more closures to come.

BRIAN ALEXANDER: There's a lot of risk that colleges universities take on by staying open right now, you know, serious harm to quite a lot of populations.

KAMENETZ: And not to mention, he says, you know, lawsuits, the U.S. being what it is. And another thread that I'm watching, Noel, is that many campuses are really actively trying to, you know, keep their communities close, even if they can't be close physically, to reduce the threat of xenophobia, discrimination and, of course, disinformation and panic. They're trying to be trusted sources of information, which is, you know, higher ed's mission.

KING: Yeah. NPR's Anya Kamenetz. Thanks so much for your reporting, Anya.

KAMENETZ: Thanks, Noel.

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